What Makes a Parapsychologist?

These days, thanks to the Internet, there are many people puting up websites stating that they are “certified” something or other – ghost hunters, paranormal investigators and even parapsychologists.  It’s very important to ask questions of such people since, while they may be sincere and well meaning, their training is truly lacking in the expertise they claim.  Certification courses offered by people or organizations that don’t have the expertise and knowledge are only passing along bad or incomplete information. Just because people may be interested in psi phenomena and may even write about it for years, does that make them parapsychologists?  No, because interest does not a professional make. 

Because someone is psychic, does that allow them to legitimately call themselves parapsychologists?  No – if that were true, having a Mind would allow you to call yourself a “psychologist.”  The –ology part of most fields of study are about the “study” part.

Parapsychology is a field of scientific endeavor dealing with the human mind, albeit different experiences than those studied by psychologists.  Parapsychologists study, in and out of the laboratory, three main forms of experiences and connections beyond an individual mind.  We study apparent exchanges of information between one mind and another or from the environment itself (this is typically called ESP), we study apparent physical effects of the mind on the environment (psychokinesis), and we study experiences that seem to relate to the idea the mind or consciousness, the personality of the human can survive the death of the body (and that’s where ghosts may come in, of course).  We do this using the methods of social and physical sciences (which is why the Parapsychological Association is an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science). 

Unfortunately, some with great interest in psi – occasionally manifesting in books and articles — are unclear as to their own definition, and in fact have a definition that seems to make members of the P.A. shudder.  Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs., Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Witchcraft, and other similar subjects are NOT part of the field of Parapsychology.  While I personally have an interest in some of these areas, it would be a disservice to the already misunderstood field of Parapsychology to include these as such.

So how can average folks decide who is or isn’t a good or real parapsychologist? Here are a few pointers.

1)  How does the individual define “parapsychology”?  Remember that parapsychology is the study of (and perhaps application of) psi abilities, not the experience of psi.  Remember that there is some application of the scientific methods of physical and social science involved here (and even direct connections to those other fields of science).  Also remember that while Cryptozoology, UFOs., lost continents and the like are themselves often worthy of study, they are not connected to psi experiences (though psi can happen in UFO encounter, for example).  Rituals, crystals, and spiritual paths, while perhaps connected to the evoking of psi in some people are not in and of themselves studied by parapsychologists.

2)  Why does the individual call himself/herself a parapsychologist?  Answers like “I’m a practicing psychic” or “I’ve been chasing ghosts for years”  or “I’ve been reading up on the field for years” are not acceptable.  A person claiming to be a parapsychologist simply because he or she is psychic is akin to me claiming I’m a psychologist because I have a mind.  If the person is doing research, either in the field or in a lab, make sure you compare their findings and methods to those you can read about in books and journals by the scientific researchers.

3)  Is the person affiliated with any research or academic organization?  Most people genuinely in the field of parapsychology are at the very least associate members of the Parapsychological Association, and many work in accredited universities and college teaching credit classes (usually not in parapsychology) or doing research.    Being a member of a membership organization like the American Society for Psychical Research does not make one a parapsychologist (any more than participating in a legitimate research project makes one a “certified psychic” as I’ve heard many claim).  No matter how good the organization is, membership groups like the ASPR have no criteria for acceptance of members.  Be especially careful here, most ghost hunting organizations don’t count – even the Office of Paranormal Investigations, while including some parapsychologists, is not composed solely of such people.

4)  What is the individual’s educational background?  I’ve run into people claiming “degrees” from mail-order psychic development schools or unaccredited diploma mills.  More and more people are claiming (because they have the paper to “prove” it) a PhD in Parapsychology, yet when one checks you find nothing academic to back that up at all. One school in Florida has offered such a degree, yet not dissertation is required (just a couple of paper, hardly more work than many undergrad classes) and though they claim to be “licensed,” turn out to only have a business licence.

Loyd Auerbach teaches at HCH Institute.  This is a California-licensed vocational school, and the certificate programs are approved by the State of California .  However, they make no claims for their certification — it is in basic parapsychological studies, and in no way should anyone with just that credential call themselves Parapsychologists.   
With rare exception (Jeffrey Mishlove being one with a PhD, Pamela Rae Heath one with a PsyD ), the only accredited parapsychology degree program (with that term on the diploma) has been John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California (which ended in the 1980s.  However, most parapsychologists have their degrees in more mainstream subjects such as psychology and physics.  If the individual was trained by a member of the Parapsychological Association (such as the folks at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland ) then at least they have had the contacts to gain appropriate information about the field.

This is not to say, by the way, that some select people who are not parapsychologists by strict definition cannot be of help.  There are several knowledgeable, competent, and ethical people out there who are not necessarily members of the Parapsychological Association.  However, just as OPI advocates questioning experiences and events to look for the “truth” that may lie under the surface, we also advocate the same when reading something by or speaking with a “parapsychologist.”  You probably should contact one of the reputable organizations listed on our links page if you have any questions at all (even whether this advice is good advice) .

All in all keep in mind that Parapsychology, like Science in general, does not have nearly enough of the answers accounted for.  In fact, Science is like a game of Cosmic Jeopardy:  the answers are laid out in front of us.  Without the right questions, the answers may make little or no sense (or be “wrong” late on).  It’s really the questions we’ve got to sort out, so don’t automatically categorize the answers without checking to see which of many questions might fit.

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